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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

According to the fourth Red List of Finnish species, completed in 2010, approximately 45,000 species are known to occur regularly in Finland, yet less than 50% of them are known sufficiently at the moment. A total of 2,247 species has been classified as threatened, amounting to 10.5% of the species whose statuses could be evaluated. The coverage of the evaluation particularly improved among species groups, including flies, wasps, arachnids, homopterans, fungi and lichens. Trends in the statuses of species could also be assessed much more accurately than was the case previously. The greater availability of data in itself led to changes in the statuses of 866 species. Verified changes in the prospects for species compared to the previous inventories were observed for 542 species, with the situation having improved for 186 of these species and having worsened for 356. The overall success of conservation measures for species can be assessed on the basis of these changes. The total number of threatened species increased by 742 species compared to the previous evaluation, but the proportion of the threatened species, of the assessed species, increased by less than 0.5 percentage points only.

Positive trends in biodiversity include decreases in the use of fertilizers and pesticides since 1990. Moreover, certain populations and distributions of wildlife species are showing positive trends and some species that were once considered to be at risk of extinction (such as large carnivore and fish species) are now stabilizing or even increasing.

Forest biodiversity is no longer declining as rapidly as was previously the case, but the overall declining trend has not yet been halted. Of 73 forest habitat types recently assessed, more than half were classified as threatened (partly due to the assessment criteria being based on features of natural forests, whereas most of Finland’s forests are commercially managed). According to the fourth Red List of Finnish species, positive trends are evident for 81 species primarily associated with forest habitats but, at the same time, the statuses of 108 forest species have worsened. It is recognized that more actions are particularly needed to safeguard the biodiversity in the forests in Southern Finland.

Out of Finland’s original mire habitat area of about 10.6 million hectares, some 1.3 million hectares have been lost due to land use changes. More than half of this area (about 5.6 million hectares) has been drained to facilitate commercial forestry; natural mire habitats with no artificial drainage ditches total about 4.1 million hectares. Some 1.7 million hectares of this total are in Southern Finland, where mire habitat types are most threatened. Spruce mires, open bogs, spruce fens and open fens have particularly declined. In Southern Finland, 48 mire habitat types are classified as threatened, amounting to 77% of the evaluated mire habitat types. In Northern Finland, only 9 mire habitat types (16% of those evaluated) are under threat. The Red List status of 30 species living primarily in mire habitats has worsened whereas the status of only 4 species has improved. These declining trends are the consequence of the various ways in which mires have been used in the longer term.

Traditional livestock farming has enriched agricultural ecosystems by creating various open and semi-open habitats, today described as semi-natural habitats. The commercial agricultural use and maintenance of such areas ended during the first half of the 20th century when the farming of meadowlands died out. The numbers of livestock farms and grazing animals have declined steeply since the 1990s, especially in Southern Finland. Agricultural land use has become more intensive, leading to the loss of the habitat of many farmland species. In recent years, however, the increasing use of buffer zones and strips in agricultural land and the later mowing of fallow fields have improved the situation somewhat.

Out of 40 evaluated semi-natural habitats, 37 (93%) have been classified as threatened. None were rated as being of least concern, and one semi-natural habitat, alder meadows, has already become extinct in Finland. The three most important threat factors are the overgrowth of formerly grazed pastures and mown meadows, the clearance of new fields, and afforestation. The clearance of fields is becoming less important as a threat, but eutrophication and construction are becoming more important as threats alongside overgrowth and afforestation. Among the threatened species primarily associated with farmland habitats, the statuses of 70 have been improving due to climatic warming and other factors, while the statuses of 83 have worsened.

The statuses of 43 inland water biotopes have been evaluated. Of these, 17 (40%) have been classified as threatened. Almost all of them were considered to be much more threatened in Southern Finland than in the north. Throughout the country, biotopes in rivers and streams are more threatened than those in other inland waters. The statuses of rivers and streams in Southern Finland are extremely poor. Among evaluated species, positive trends have been observed for 12 species and negative trends for 27 species. Worsening trends have also been more common than positive trends for species associated with lakeshores, river banks, sandy shores, and shores consisting of water meadows and flood meadows.

Our knowledge of underwater biotopes in the Baltic Sea and assessments of their state are much less comprehensive than for terrestrial biotopes, even though the ongoing Finnish Inventory Programme for the Underwater Marine Environment (VELMU) has already greatly expanded our knowledge base. Of 12 underwater biotopes whose statuses could be evaluated, only one was classified as being of least concern, four as near threatened, and five as threatened, including three biotopes considered to be endangered in Finnish waters: red algae communities, charophyte meadows and Zostera marina communities.

The statuses of 43 Finnish coastal biotopes have been evaluated. Of these, 23 (53%) were classified as threatened. Succession series of coastal forests in areas with emergent coasts are critically endangered, since intact examples of such series are extremely rare today. Endangered coastal biotopes include combinations of deltaic biotopes and succession series of dunes.

The statuses of 46 arctic fell biotopes have been evaluated, with 7 (15%) classified as threatened. Snow patches were classified as endangered, since their numbers have clearly decreased, and this decline is expected to accelerate due to climatic warming. Reindeer grazing has affected mountain birch forest biotopes and some mountain heath biotopes. Climate change represents a future threat to biotopes shaped by ground frost. Among the threatened species of treeless arctic fell habitats negative trends have been noted among 27 species and only one species has been faring more favourably. These species typically only have small total populations and limited distributions, which increases the risks associated with stochastic factors. Such stochastic factors are the main causes of the negative trends among about half of these threatened species, and erosion due to reindeer grazing or tourism was the second most significant causal factor. The shrinking of reindeer grazing areas due to the spread of competing forms of land use is leading to the degradation of the remaining grazing areas.

Ecosystem goods and services provide substantial benefits in terms of productivity, water cycles, soil quality and carbon sequestration, and represent important sources of revenues for several sectors such as tourism (with over 4 million visitors, from local residents to foreign tourists, visiting Finland’s protected areas annually).

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

Threats to biodiversity in Finland include the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea, invasive alien species and climate change. Main threats to biodiversity in agricultural areas in particular relate to the cessation of traditional farming practices and intensifying land use. The clearance of fields is becoming less important as a threat, but eutrophication and construction are becoming more important as threats, alongside overgrowth and afforestation. Notably, most of these pressures and ecosystem changes are more acute in the southern parts of the country, where more species and habitats are consequently threatened. The threats facing fish species and declines in fish stocks are mainly due to actions that have changed aquatic environments. The greatest threats facing lakes are nutrient and solid loads, while headwaters suffer from the impacts of forestry and peat extraction. A recent survey indicated that, over the last 50 years, the digging of drainage ditches to make mires more productive for forestry purposes has posed the most significant threat to mires, followed by construction, peat extraction, the flooding of peatlands to create reservoirs, and the clearance of agricultural land.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

In December 2012, the Finnish Government adopted the National Strategy for the Conservation and Sustainable Use of Biodiversity (2012-2020) entitled ‛Saving Nature for People’. Replacing the National Strategy (2006-2016), the vision of the new Strategy is to halt biodiversity loss in Finland by 2020 and ensure the favourable status of biodiversity and ecosystem services by 2050 (Finland will also assume active responsibility for issues related to biodiversity in international contexts). The Government stresses the achievement of the overarching goals through mainstreaming actions across government and society, changing attitudes and institutional processes, and enhancing cooperation. Further, the Strategy’s mission emphasizes, among other principles, that actions must consider biodiversity issues and values as fundamental elements in decision-making. Comprised of 5 strategic goals and 20 national targets, the new Strategy has been formulated in compliance with the Strategic Plan (2011-2020) and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, as well as with the targets set out in the EU Biodiversity Strategy to 2020. Relevant ministries have been assigned to implement the Strategy by working in cooperation with civil society, commercial interests and other stakeholders to create a cost-effective and purposeful Action Plan that contains quantitative and qualitative bases for monitoring. Implementation of the Strategy will also be conducted in a manner respectful of the indigenous Sámi community’s traditional knowledge and practices related to biodiversity.

The Action Plan has been adopted for fulfilling the goals and targets set by the Government until 2020, while giving due consideration to national needs and priorities, and will be implemented within spending limits defined in central government budget frameworks. Progress on the implementation of the Strategy and Action Plan will be monitored and assessed, with findings reported to the Government in 2015.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Finland’s network of protected areas is quite extensive, with some 12% of the country’s total surface under protection, and up to 15% when other areas reserved for nature conservation programs are added, including the Natura 2000 sites which encompass significant areas for marine and coastal biotopes and species. Notably, Finland has adopted Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 as a national target thereby committing to increase, by 2020, protected area coverage of terrestrial environments and inland waters to 17%, and coastal and marine areas to 10%.

The aim of the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme (2008–2016) for Southern Finland is to halt the ongoing decline in forest biodiversity. The programme covers both private and state-owned land and is being carried out collaboratively among the Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Finnish Environment Institute and the Forest Development Centre TAPIO. Finland is also at the moment preparing new forest legislation.

A resolution on a programme for implementing river basin management plans for the years 2010-2015 was approved by Government in February 2011. This programme sets out in detail actions for different sectors to carry out for improving the condition of inland waters, while also allocating responsibility for implementing actions to various entities. Another resolution, adopted in March 2012, pertains to a National Fishway Strategy which aims to strengthen the vitality of threatened and vulnerable migratory fish populations, representing a shift in emphasis away from fish introductions towards measures that maintain and restore the natural reproductive cycles of fish populations. The Government also plans to enhance fishing legislation, with consideration given to implementing the EU Fisheries Control Regulation in this process. A further resolution, adopted in August 2012, defines a strategy for the sustainable and responsible use and conservation of mires and peatlands.

Climate change may particularly affect the culture of the indigenous Sámi people, since most of Finland’s arctic fells lie within the Sámi Homeland region. Indicators to illustrate such trends urgently need to be devised. The Government will particularly pay attention to the vulnerability of nature in northern regions, to the need for better monitoring and forecasting of threat factors, and to conservation and sustainable use, both nationally by clarifying legislation and administrative practices related to land use, and internationally in cooperation with other countries in the Arctic and Barents Euro-Arctic regions. The Government will also enhance the rights of the Sámi as an indigenous people, for instance by clarifying legislation related to land use and by participating actively in international cooperation to strengthen the legal and practical protection of indigenous peoples.

The Finnish Government aims to channel support for agri-environmental activities through the EU’s multiannual financial framework (2014-2020) and amend the qualifying conditions for such subsidies so as to provide additional incentives to farmers for enhancing environmental protection and nature management at the regional and farm levels.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

In Finland, the principle of sectoral responsibility has been adopted in the conservation of biodiversity, meaning that each sector takes responsibility for reducing its harmful impacts on the natural environment. This principle has been duly adopted by the various branches of the government, and each of the relevant government ministries - particularly agriculture and forestry, transport, communication, defense and education - has developed their plans for biodiversity and provided training for their personnel working on biodiversity issues.

Biodiversity considerations have been favorably integrated into new and revised legislation, including the Land Use and Building Act (which also deals with the designation of National Urban Parks (NUPs)), Penal Code, Gene Technology Act and Decree, Nature Conservation Act, Forest Act, Water Act and the Wilderness Act. Finland’s Land Extraction Act aims to control the extraction of mineral resources so as to support environmentally sustainable development. For the permit system to function effectively, however, more information is needed about the natural values of rock and soil formations. Many more new mines, mining claims and applications for concessions are being established today than in previous decades. Mining activities have particularly intensified in Northern and Eastern Finland. Finland’s mining legislation has been renewed, and the new legislation gives more consideration to the need to conserve biodiversity than earlier legislation did.

Sámi customary law related to biodiversity guides traditional land use practices, defines communities’ internal relationships with regard to land use, establishes principles for the common use of areas by the Sámi, and ensures that natural resources are used sustainably in line with Sámi legal concepts. In June 2011, Finland became a signatory to the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization, and intends to ratify the Protocol without delay.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

Concerning monitoring tools and programmes, a large-scale inventory programme (VELMU Programme) of the most important marine underwater biotopes and distribution and range of different species and fish breeding grounds was initiated in 2004 and will be completed in 2015. With a view to developing a unified GIS application for managing protected areas, the Ministry of the Environment established a programme (SALTI) for creating IT systems for protected areas in the 2008-2011 period, assigning responsibility for the work to the Natural Heritage Services (NHS) Unit. Recently, additional resources have become available for research into species thanks to the Research Programme on Deficiently Known and Threatened Forest Species (PUTTE), which forms a part of the METSO Forest Biodiversity Programme.

The Government will intensify species protection in Finland by drafting and implementing a species protection action plan in collaboration with key actors in this field. The plan should improve the cost effectiveness, comprehensiveness and impact of species protection measures, while also ensuring that monitoring and research can continue in the long term, data on species is well managed and related voluntary work is well organised and supported.

Indicators of trends in climate change form a good basis for assessing how rapidly and extensively changes may be reflected in natural ecosystems. The first version of the web-based tool FINESSI, devised by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), combines the findings of six climate models, four emission scenarios and three impact models. Sufficient indicators exist for monitoring trends in the state of the Baltic marine environment, but there is still a need to enhance monitoring of the areas and quality of underwater and coastal habitats. There is a need to develop suitable indicators to describe ecosystem services and related trends and for monitoring the natural state and coherence of rivers, streams, springs and ponds. Both quantitative and qualitative indicators are needed to monitor the desired improvements in opportunities for natural fish species to reproduce and the sustainability of fishing levels. Indicators to illustrate trends in biotopes and species in arctic fell environments urgently need to be devised due to the rapid rate of climate change in these northern regions. Indicators for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity should be devised to facilitate the monitoring of the numbers and structural features of protected areas, recreation areas and other areas preserved in a fairly natural state, for the purposes of land use planning.

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  • United Nations Environment Programme